TEDx NTU highlights – 8 Oct 2016

For some reasons, after attending the amazing TEDx Singapore in Nov 2015 at NTU, I somehow thought TEDx NTU might only be about professors or students at the university. Boy was I wrong! The theme “Through the looking glass” appears to have been very rich and a great thread.


Amazing seats on the 2nd row for inspiring sessions



The session started with star TED speaker Hans Rosling and his son Ola with their famous “How not to be ignorant about the world”

1st live speaker Christopher Cummings – Communications researcher

Risk is a function of magnitude and probability eg. air crashes are low probability / high magnitude and cardio vascular diseases are high probability / high magnitude.


But we hear about air crashes more often than cardio vascular diseases because of the outrage it causes.


This is due to the affect in our brain.


Christopher Cummings focuses his research on 1 emotion: fear and how it is used in communications. He gave the example of the mad cow in the 90’s in the UK and how the public started paying attention to the risk when it was renamed from the mouthful scientific name.

Jorgen Schlundt – Food scientist

Jorgen Schlundt explained that the antibiotics bacteria resistance was discussed at the UN assembly in Sep 2016. It is a big problem, causing 700k death per year (10% of cancer), predicted to be 10million in 2050.


After a quick test with the audience, he shared that antibiotics are now used mostly to grow healthy animals faster. Through eye opening examples he showed that antibiotics resistance starts when they’re used for animals, before sharing his solution: a DNA sequencing of the bacteria when a patient gets sick that would be uploaded to a global database to measure resistance (before it spreads).

Danny Quah – Economist


Liberal economists always talked about the “world’s economic centre of gravity”. Pr Quah calculated it based on economic data!

It was born in the transatlantic axis where liberalism was born (between the US and the UK) and since the 80’s it moved to GMT+8 where India and China are.

The reality though is that the “American dream” is not quite there yet for China as such an offer wouldn’t catch many takers:



After a break and Michael Kimmel’s hilarious talk on Why Gender Equality Is Good for Everyone, Yamini Bhaskar took the stage.

Yamini Bhaskar – Model and reptile expert


I was hypnotised by her talk with a snake on her arm, impressed and humbled by her work in rural India educating population on avoiding death by reptile bites and by her call to put ourselves in the snakes shoes.

Akshobh Giridharadas – Journalist

Curiosity at the heart of journalism, which is leading to storytelling and domain knowledge. Today’s journalism is anachronistic. What is the journalism of the future?


Compared the oldest reference to journalism: the Acta Diurna circa 59 BC Akshobh Giridharadas rightly pointed that breaking news are now on Twitter rather than tomorrow’s paper.

Monetisation is harder and harder: Paul Krugman, NY Times economist has shown that for $100, people will choose taxi rides, food and beer rather than a NYT subscription.


In the old days, advertisers needed newspapers to reach consumers.


Today they have more options. This had led to 40% less revenue for newspapers than in 2000 and #Churnalism (a word coined to describe a form of journalism in which press releases, stories provided by news agencies, and other forms of pre-packaged material, instead of reported news, are used to create articles in newspapers and other news media), summarized by John Oliver’s sketch

No bright solution here: there are few options left.

Irene Gallego Romero – Human evolutionary geneticist


Is your DNA that powerful?


To illustrate her “Nature v nurture” talk, Irene Gallego Romero took the example of adults cats who can not break milk when humans can.


She showed the DNA sequence of milk and her mutation the little c (in red) that enables her to digest lactose. If you don’t have it, you feel sick.

This is related to where your DNA comes from: mostly Western Europe.


Historically the DNA mutation happened where humans have access to milk!

Genes respond to environment, food you eat, decisions you make. So it’s Nature AND Nurture! It’s a canvas where nature and nurture collaborate.


After lunch, Ben Goldacre kept the energy level high with his “Battling Bad Science” talk before Okay Barutçu took the stage.

Okay Barutçu – Technologist and professional business leader

One of the most profound talk, which to date has made me change my behaviour re-water saving…


Okay Barutçu introduced his talk by stating that water is life. It’s misuse of it means misery. 10% of the electrical power is used for pumps to move water. Water so critical yet there is no global sustainable policy.


As part of the UN 2030 17-goals, 2 goals are related to water: Clean water for all and Life below water.


0.03% only is readily available fresh water for human consumption (mostly in ice cap). Women and kids spend 6 hours per day finding water and carrying it home in rural Africa and Central Asia. This #dirtywater is mostly not suitable for their health.


To fight #dirtywater, Okay Barutçu showed that every $1 in water sanitation returns $4.


He then asked us to be conscious about “Invisible water” the hidden water which is our water footprint as everything we consume or buy uses water to be produced.


More ironicly, a 1L bottle of water takes 5L of water to produce!

By 2050, with 2 extra billion people on earth, the world production will then grow by 400%.

The way we abuse water is clearly not sustainable. Technology is available to optimise how we use water, but it has its water footprint.

Time to change our habits me thinks.


Raj Singh – Management consultant

Last but not least, Raj Singh closed TEDxNTU on a very moving talk, focusing on the 1.2m foreign workers in Singapore (excluding domestic help) who are looking from outside the looking glass.


He compared their first 2 years as the same as the first 2 weeks of national service: no freedom, no homecook food and shared the life lessons he learned from the foreign workers: resilience, frugality, sacrifice and empathy.